We’ve reached a milestone in this country! 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of Canada’s first federal Divorce Act, and a lot has changed in family law since it was passed.
The Divorce Act established a uniform divorce law across Canada. Before that, there were different laws relating to divorce in different provinces. This Act introduced the concept of permanent breakdown of marriage as grounds for divorce as well, making it much easier for couples (and women in particular) to part ways. Before the Act, a husband could petition for divorce on the grounds that his wife had committed adultery, but a wife could only petition for a divorce based on adultery combined with other offenses.
As our values, expectations and experiences change, so too do the laws that guide us. Below are three other significant changes we’ve witnessed in family law that have improved the way Ontarians resolve divorce and family law issues.
Expansion of the Family Court
In Ontario, family law matters are heard in the Superior Court of Justice, the Ontario Court of Justice, or the Family Court branch of the Superior Court of Justice. The issue in dispute, and where parties are located within the province, will determine which court they attend.
The Superior Court of Justice is the general court for the entire province. It has jurisdiction over criminal, civil, and family cases. It cannot take cases relating to adoption and child-protection matters, except in limited circumstances.
The Ontario Court of Justice hears only those disputes that are governed by provincial law. It also deals with Family and non-Family matters. In the Family realm, it will hear cases regarding child custody and access, child and spousal support matters, as well as child protection and adoption hearings. It does not deal with divorce or divorce-related issues.
The Family Court branch however, is unique in that it is authorized to hear all family law matters. Sometimes referred to as the Unified Family Court, it began as a pilot project in Hamilton in 1977. By 1999, the Family Court was a fully integrated component of the Superior Court of Justice, and 17 Family Court sites were in effect. All 17 sites remain active today.
Why This Change Matters
Unified family courts save Ontarians time, and promote access to justice by allowing parties to go to one court to fully resolve their legal issues. It can be very frustrating for people to have to switch back and forth between courts, not to mention costly and time-consuming.
Recommendations have been made to expand unified family courts provincewide, but reaching that goal is not a one-step process.
Family Law Rules
The Family Law Rules are specialized rules of procedure for family law cases. They apply in all three courts that deal with family cases. They were introduced in 1999 in Family Courts and the Ontario Courts of Justice, and were expanded to apply in all Superior Courts of Justice in 2004.
As a result, there is now one set of court rules for all family cases at the trial level across the province.
Why This Change Matters
Litigants can and should expect fairness and justice from Ontario family court judges, and the Family Law Rules ensure that fairness is woven into court processes.
Furthermore, these rules make it easier for self-represented parties to navigate the legal system. More and more Ontarians are having to represent themselves in court, and these rules make it easier for them to understand, on a step-by-step basis, how their case will be handled and resolved.
Child Support Guidelines
Child support is not determined arbitrarily. It is calculated based on a set of guidelines. The Federal Child Support Guidelines, which were passed in 1997, use various formulas that incorporate factors such as the income of each of the parents, and whether the child lives primarily with one of them.
It’s important to note that federal law applies to child support ordered in cases of divorce, while provincial law applies to child support ordered in all other cases, for example, when the parents are separated or were never married. Provincial law also applies to all child support agreements that are not part of a court order. To maintain consistency, Ontario adopted provincial guidelines under the Family Law Act that mirror the federal ones at the end of 1997.
The main objectives of the federal and provincial Guidelines are to establish a fair standard of support for children from both parents after separation, to reduce conflict and tension between parents by making the calculation of child support orders more objective, to improve the efficiency of the legal process by giving courts and spouses guidance in setting the levels of child support orders and encouraging settlement, and to ensure consistent treatment of spouses and children who are in similar circumstance.
Why This Change Matters
Since Ontario changed its Family Law Act, there is one consistent method of calculating child support for all Ontario families. It does not matter if parents are divorced, separated or never married.
It also eliminates the element of surprise for parents; The Child Support Table Look-up can be accessed online to give parents a general idea of what they will have to pay.
Finally, the Guidelines make it possible for parents to set up their own support agreement, provided it is fair to the child. If parents do decide to do this on their own, it is always recommended that they put the agreement in writing.
For more information on family law rules or procedures, feel free to contact our office. We practice exclusively in the area of family law.